Friday, 2 December 2016
Northern Africa, 19th century. A French army unit is fighting an Arab rebellion against the colonialism, which is supported by the Spanish army. Hector Servadac, a French cartographer, falls off a cliff into the sea and is saved by a girl, Angelica, in whom he falls in love with. However, just then, a giant comet appears on the sky. There is an explosion, and buildings fly off, but fall down again. The French and Arab armies continue to fight, until they encounter Dinosaurs and spot Mars on the sky. They realize that their strip of land has somehow been catapulted on the surface of the travelling comet. Angelica is kidnapped by her brother, but Hector finds her again. When the Earth is seen on the sky, there is another explosion. Hector wakes up near the shore - it was a dream.
An adaptation of Jules Verne's novel "Hector Servedac", Karel Zeman's fantasy adventure is an appropriately opulent and imaginative little film, where he once again demonstrated his audacity to conjure up his very own picturesque worlds outside the big budget system of Hollywood. A small gem of Czech cinema, Zeman is an author with a simple, good old school narrative enriched with an fantastic story - in this edition, a strip of African land with its people was catapulted on a comet - and further enriched with an distinctive, artificial set design, which pretty much immediately identifies his vision, reminiscent of artificial movie worlds of T. Burton, T. Gilliam or J. Švankmajer - the imagery alone is exquisite (in one scene, the soldiers spot Earth on the sky, and one comically adds: "...I can see France!"). "On the Comet" is a light fun, with rather thin character development (including the meagre love story between Hector and Angelica) as well as a unsatisfying ending, yet it has that innocent charm and crazy enthusiasm that simply melts you away. At around 37 minutes into the film, dinosaurs show up, and while they do not last for longer than 2 minutes, they feature several amusing moments, such as they just wag their tales when the army shoots cannons in front of them or start a comedy-stampede when they hear pots in a waggon led by horses. More impressive in its look and visual effects than in its characters or emotions, "On the Comet" is still a remarkable adventure film of pure class.
Wednesday, 30 November 2016
The fight for the legacy of the Seven Kingdoms continues. Aften fleeing from King's Landing, Tyrion and Varys try to find Daenerys. Tyrion is kidnapped by exiled Jorah, who - ironically - brings him to Daenerys, who accepts him as her adviser. She is attacked by a rebellious gang in the Meereen arena, but escapes thanks to her dragon... On the north, in Winterfell, Ramsay marries Sansa Stark and rapes her in front of Theon. This causes Theon to rebel and help Sansa escape from the fortress. In the meantime, Stannis burns his daughter for the gods as a sacrifise to win in the battle against Winterfell, but Ramsay's army destroys his whole army... Jaime Lannister and Bronn go to Dorne to bring back Myrcella Baratheon, fearing she might get assassinated... Arya works as a apprentice in a temple of assassins in Braavos, with many faces, and kills criminal Meryn in a brothel... Jon Snow manages to unite the wildlings and the Night Watch before the army of Zombies annexes the north, but he is killed because they think he is a traitor.
Season 5 is a waste of time. It is here where the ratio between the viewers' invested time and the actual lack of a payoff or a point reach a breaking point, after which the meandering structure and endless piling up of so many useless subplots cause "Game of Thrones" to collapse on itself from its own weight. The worst season of the series, season 5 went way overboard with disgusting, primitive, vile violence without any sense for measure or subtlety in directing - there are explicit scenes here of a little girl getting burned alive on a bonfire, a man's head getting decapitated in a close up, a man's throat getting cut off with a detailed bloodshed, Ramsay raping Sansa and forcing Theon to watch the crime... - and while the previous seasons certainly had their fair share of violence as well, they at least had clever writing or some kind of a directorial style to compensate for it, but since the viewers are offered so little intellectually this time around, the authors cannot salvage the negative impression left on all this savagery and crap getting thrown at the screen. Season 5 simply lacks highlights, among others because it again resorts to endless filler instead of finally advancing the plot forward. What was the point, for instance, to again and again show that Ramsay is evil? It was established already in the previous season, and thus all his new misdeeds just seem like a repetitive repeat of the same thing. Also, it was done in a really banal way, in the vein of "make the viewers hate the villain, no matter how cheap or how blatant" - the scene in episode 4.5, where Roose tells Ramsay how he got him, namely that he raped a peasant girl under the tree where he hanged her husband, is such a trash that one wonders if it is a parody.
Written in a mediocre manner, where the characters are basically just saying out loud what is going on the screen or repeating what happened, which is very standard and dry, and thus season 5 disappoints wholeheartedly. There is no single great episode, all are either average of good at best, and even the final, "Mother's Mercy", is a mixed bag, except for one - the excellent episode 4.8, where the Zombies attack and annex the peninsula on the north, leading to an epic battle which Jon Snow witnesses, and which is done with such an eerie suspense and virtuoso inspiration that it is the only episode to justify its existence here. It clearly showed how all the tribes and clans are wasting their time fighting each other, and in the process don't see the bigger picture, the larger threat of supernatural (abstract) dimensions. The subplot where Brandon's group encountered a mythical tree with leaves in the middle of the snow was one of the most expressionistic images in the entire 4th season - only to not even be mentioned in this season at all, which is a betrayal: why start such an imaginative story just to drop it? Why does the temple in which Arya trains have pillars covered with faces on it? Does any of it make sense? Are there no criteria left for the authors? Season 5 turned into a Middle Ages soap opera. Just as Stannis sacrificed his daughter on the bonfire, which led to half of his army deserting from disgust, the same fate befell season 5 which was abandoned by many of its fans for having such poor judgement and ill-conceived ideas in this edition.
Wednesday, 23 November 2016
The fight for the legacy of the Seven Kingdoms continues. At King's Landing, Prince Oberyn and many other guests are summoned to attend the wedding of King Joffrey and Margaery Tyrell. However, King Joffrey is poisoned after drinking vine, and Cersei and Tywin Lannister put the blame on Tyrion. A show trial is set up, with even Shae giving false testimony against him. Trying to prove his innocence, Tyrion wants a combat, and Oberyn accepts to battle for him, but gets killed by Gregor. However, Jamie Lannister helps Tyrion escape before the execution - before he escapes, Tyrion kills Shae and Tywin... Daenerys and her army manage to conquer another city and release the slaves there, but her three dragons keep acting more and more erratic. It also turns out that her associate Jorah has been sending information about her to King's Landing... In the North, Brandon Stark and his associates finally manage to find the mysterious Heart Tree from his vision, where they meet an old man who disguised himself as the 3-eyed raven... When Brienne kills the "Hound", Arya Stark is left alone and boards a ship...Ramsay still tortures Theon Greyjoy... Jon Snow leads the successful defence of the Wall from the wildings, but his beloved Ygritte dies.
The 4th season of the popular alternate history series "Game of Thrones" made a few improvements compared to the flaws of the previous two seasons, notably by toning the cruelty a little bit down, yet the problems of the bigger picture in it still remain, especially the ones aimed at how long George R. R. Martin can overstretch all these storylines and add new ones until it all collapses on itself from excess or the viewers' oversaturation with whom of the characters wants to battle whom. This season still works, but the cracks are appearing, and either they will be addressed in the next seasons, or it will all go downhill from here. One of the disappointing elements is the resolution of Tyrion's love relationship with Shae, which does not serve him or her justice, whereas Tywin's end is too similar to Vincent Vega's end in "Pulp Fiction". However, episodes 4.1, 4.2, 4.6, 4.9 and 4.10 are all great, staying true to several completely unexpected plot twists and giving at least three evil characters their just judgement, evidently also featuring better writing of dialogues: in episode 4.1, for instance, there is a clever exchange (Allister: "You always know when a man is telling a lie. How did you acquire this magical power?" - Maester Aemon: "...I grew up in King's Landing...") whereas the writers had a field day in Oberyn's comical jabs aimed at Cersei ("Wearing the crown for so many years must have left your neck a bit crooked").
The tension on the wedding in episode 4.2 grows so steadily until it becomes almost palpable, whereas the episode ends in such a delicious and satisfying plot twist that it would be a sin to even mention it to those who haven't seen it, since it must not be spoiled. The critics rightfully praised the stand-out episode 4.9, that untypically focused only on one single storyline, the siege of Wall by the wildings, featuring a few spectacular moments (the defence releases a giant scythe that swings and simply decimates the besieging forces that were climbing on the giant wall) and suspenseful action sequences (the giant and the mammoth pulling the gates in order to open them). The trial sequence in episode 4.6 is also a highlight, especially when the accused, Tyrion, simply addresses the crowd and shouts: "I am on trial for being a dwarf my entire life!", whereas Cersei proves to be a far more complex character thanks to her defiance to Tywin who wants to force her into an arranged marriage (in one scene, she interrupts him in the middle of his stories where he once again got everything his way:"I’m not interested in hearing another one of your smug stories about the time you won. This isn’t going to be one of those times."). The most aesthetically pleasant and almost esoteric moment arrives when Brandon and his crew reach the mysterious Heart Tree that glows in the snow – it is a pity so little of its purpose is revealed in this season, but the sight of it is so magical it almost reminds of a paranormal event. The best moments arrive when some seemingly separate stories and characters encounter, unite and complete each other, yet parts of this "hyper-narrative" still remain questionable for spending so much of the viewers' time and do not always justify its existence.
Tuesday, 22 November 2016
Somewhere in the Slovenian Alps, the 10-year old Kekec lives with his family in a small village, where rumors of a cruel man, Bedanec, spread. Desolate in his home in the forest, Bedanec keeps a 10-year orphan old girl, Mojca, captive, so that she can clean his home. When she begs to escape, the nearby old man, Kosobrin, gives her refuge in his home on a plateau that can only be reached through a secret cave passage. Bedanec captures Kekec and forces him to work in his home, and plots to re-capture Mojca from Kosobrin. When Bedanec finds the secret cave entrance, Kekec releases a dog. In the rush, Bedanec is found hanging from a cliff and agrees to leave the place if Kekec helps him climb back. Bedanec leave and Kekec returns to his village.
One of the most popular and beloved children's movies of Slovenian and Yugoslav cinema, this is a rather well made, though still by today's standards a little dated achievements. Set among the wonderful, idyllic locations of the Slovenian Alps, leaning towards the German Heimatfilm repertoire, directed in a straight-forward manner by Joze Gale, this is a film that still causes a few questions at its inconsistencies and ill-conceived plot points by modern viewers – for instance, having the "villain" Bedanec keep an abducted 10-year old girl, Mojca, captive in his home against her will, seems little suitable for a kids' movie, and also begs several bitter questions (why don't the people in the nearby village simply call the police? Is Bedanec a paedophile or does he simply seek some company for his solitude because he does not have kids of his own?). These questions and 'rough' edges clash badly with each other, yet if the viewers simply ignore them and enjoy "Kekec" as an old-fashioned film in which the title boy saves the day, it still has some charm, flair and grace, with a few humorous moments that manage to ignite the mood (a boy dresses up as a ghost to scare of Kekec's sister, Tinka; a peasant wishes all the best to Kekec's father, and even jokingly wishes that his "chicken may hatch him a cow").
Monday, 21 November 2016
Beijing. A guy, Wang, falls in love with a girl, Chen, and persuades her to give him 90 days to prove that he is worthy of marrying her. In order to do so, he puts every coin in a sealed envelope with notes of each day, until they reach 90 coins. Pursuing her career, Chen forgets about the box and accepts an invitation by a French businessman to go to Paris. However, she then stumbles upon the box with the coins and remembers all the wonderful days with Wang.
"The Story of 90 Coins" is an uncynical, refreshingly honest, emotional and innocent in presenting the simple love story, with the two lead actors giving very good performances, especially the charming Zhuang Zhiqi. Some of its best moments arrive swiftly, in the comical way, almost reminding of a romantic comedy at times, such as the snake sequence in the tent and the sequence where Wang anonymously plays a love song for Chen over the radio, but she says "Who's that? What a stupid guy". Also, the movie is filmed with remarkable technical level and expertise for a first film by director Michael Wong, from the crispy clear cinematography up to the editing and sound, with only minimal flaws here and there.
However, there are 2 problems with the film. The sole concept is great - a guy persuades a girl to give him 90 days to prove that he is the right for her to marry him - but "90 Coins" is so fast in exchanging its vignettes that the viewers wish it simply slowed down and took more time to develop these episodes in the story. Take for instance that snake scene - how did the couple get there? What did they do afterwards? Did they stick around in the tent later on to simply enjoy the nature after that "incident"? Or the sequence where Wang carries Chen on his shoulders because she is sick - it is sweet, but how did he find out she is sick? Where did he pick her up (at her apartment, maybe, or on the street)? And how did she react when she got well? Did she thank him? While these moments are very sweet, they would have been even better if the viewers had a wider context in which they happen. Some of them are just too short to truly engage fully, though that it understandable due to budget constraints. The second problem is that the chronology of his plan is not displayed entirely linear and clear. Yes, a flashback is a legitimate director's choice. Yes, several days in that 90 days period are indeed shown. And yes, it is touching when she "stumbles" upon the box of coins she almost forgot in the room, which triggers her memory of these days. However, it would have been nice if the viewers got to see "Day 1" and "Day 2", to immediately get the impression that it started - and how it started. This chronology has a middle and an end, but not a beginning. It would have been great to see what he did on the 1st day to "kick off" his 90 day plan, and on the 2nd day. This would have set the tone for the film. Overall, this is still a sweet little first film, which announces that the director has a lot of potential for a feature that could elaborate the events further.
Saturday, 19 November 2016
In '70, NASA sends another manned mission to the Moon, named Apollo 13, but it quickly justifies the reputation of "13" as an unlucky number: namely, as soon as it is in space, its oxygen tanks suddenly explodes, thus leaving its three astronauts - Jim Lovell, Fred Haise and Jack Swigert - in peril. On Earth, the Houston command centre, led by Kranz, realizes that the astronauts cannot land on the Moon with such damage, and instead re-focus their efforts on bringing them back alive before they run out of power. Passing by the Moon, the craft uses its gravitational pull to catapult back to Earth, and thus, despite freezing temperatures due to a saving of heating power, the three astronauts manage to return safely home.
A biopic about a dangerous manned mission to the Moon that went terribly wrong, "Apollo 13" gives a proportionally rather well assembled chronicle of events, though it sometimes comes off less cinematic and more as a schematic 'PowerPoint' presentation of the event. The first half an hour serves as a bland intro, wasting too much time on Jim Lovell's family and dry preparations of the mission, yet once the craft launches into space, the movie lifts up as well, displaying a few suspenseful moments and bravely showing the unglamourous side of astronauts in space, which is not always as idealized as some like it to present. Several comical moments are refreshing (upon turning off the electricity in the navigation panel to save the power in the craft for later, and just letting it drift in space, Lovell's joking comments: "We just put Sir Isaac Newton in the driver's seat") whereas the most genius moment arrives in the NASA office, where engineers are given the assignment to somehow find a way to connect two filters using only spare parts which can be found in the Apollo 13, so that the astronauts can replicate it themselves on the craft before CO2 levels reach a critical point there. However, Ron Howard's direction and the screenplay by William Broyles, Jr. and Al Reinert are not always that inspired, since the movie is a tad overlong and overburdened with conventional dialogues, especially in the inter-cuts that focus on Lovell's wife and family on Earth, which tend to turn melodramatic and empty at times. The most was achieved from great actors, excellent Tom Hanks and Kevin Bacon, but also by veteran actor Ed Harris as the 'maverick' flight director Kranz who simply refuses to let the three astronauts perish in space, whereas one has to compliment the film crew for their painstaking effort by filming many space sequences in a reduced gravity aircraft, which realistically conveys a feeling of zero gravity among the three actors.
Tuesday, 15 November 2016
Šibenik. Marijana (24) works as a lab technician in a hospital and lives a depressive life in a small apartment which she shares with her poor income family: the unemployed brother Zoran, unemployed mother and macho father. When her father endures a stroke, he is left bed-ridden and Marijana now has to earn for the whole family alone, as well as feed and change diapers for her paralyzed father. Bullied at work and annoyed at home, she randomly takes a ride to have group sex with two unknown guys. After an argument, she decides to leave the apartment and move to Zagreb. In the last moment, she changes her mind and returns to her city.
Hana Jusic's feature length debut film, "Quit Staring at My Plate" is one of those calculative art-films with typical cliches for the art-film audience: a passive hero(ine) who suffers through her depressive life all the time, who doesn't do anything about it and then the movie ends without anything being resolved or changing. It has good shot composition, good technical and production values, good actors - yet it is just simply lifeless, sterile, dry, grey and monotone, one of those standard-depressive 'social drama' movies that amassed in Croatian cinema without any ingenuity or spirit. The dialogues are uninspired, since the movie is basically about nothing - random scenes show up which lead nowhere (Marijana is warned that people are getting fired at work, for instance, but that never really proves useful later on in the film) and the only moments that are memorable are the sequence where Marijana has to change diapers for the paralyzed father in bed and the (unrealistic) moment where she has group sex without condoms with two men she just met in a car. The film may be a realistic presentation at nihilistic empty existence in modern society, yet it still lacks highlights. It is basically a soap opera.
Monday, 14 November 2016
Two decades after the incidents around the Jurassic Park, a new crew managed to bring order and establish it as a popular dinosaur Zoo on the island. Two teenagers, Zach and Grey, are sent to the park to visit their aunt Claire, who works as a manager there. She is also friends with Owen, one of the employees who is training four Velociraptors. However, a genetically modified hybrid dinosaur, Indominus, breaks free and thus alarm bells are sounded for the 22,000 visitors on the island. Several people are killed, but Claire releases the T. Rex and it manages to defeat the Indominus, thanks also to Owen's loyal Velociraptors. Zach and Grey are saved and evacuated with other guests from the island.
14 years after the last installement, against all predictions that it would be just a cheap rip-off of the franchise, reboot "Jurassic World" actually proved as a pleasant surprise, giving freshness and vitality after a long pause in the series, even surpassing the last two films, "Jurassic Park II" and "Jurassic Park III", by a nose. Director Colin Trevorrow crafts the film with stylistic elegance, whereas screenwriters Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver manage to construct it to be simply fun: numerous moments are amusing (a "giant" lizard leg proves to be just the leg of a small sparrow when the camera zooms out; the ironic comment of a chief technician upon hearing how new, simple names of hybrid dinosaurs are given: "Pepsi-saurus") or just plain clever (when the vicious Indominus gets out of the cage, Owen hides under a car and cuts a hose in order to pour gasoline over himself, whose smell thus repents the dinosaur), the necessary explanations as to what happened between the events of the last film were neatly interwoven into the story thanks to unobtrusive dialogues, the good characters are a pleasant company, the action and chase sequences are set up with a lot of spirit whereas the new main "villain" dinosaur Indominus manages to live up to the hype. The weakest link is the last third of the film, which slowly causes the story to lose its concentration and regress into standard, repetitive action, exacerbated by a rather vague ending, whereas a few 'boastful' moments stick up like a soar thumb, yet the movie manages to stand on its own, justifying its existence thanks to further exploration of the stimulative concept.
Saturday, 12 November 2016
The fight for the throne of the Seven Kingdoms continues. Davos is given pardon by Stannis, but he decides to free a lad whom witch Melisandre wanted to sacrifice in order to cause a spell which would help Stannis gain the throne... Daenerys, with the help of her three dragons and her advisers, manages to buy 8,000 slave soldiers, gives them freedom and thus gains their support to conquer Yunkai... After his rebellion was quashed, Theon Greyjoy is being tortured by Ramsay Snow. Theon's father, Balon, is indifferent, but Theon's sister Yara decides to send an army to rescue Theon... Lord Frey tricks his guests and lets the Lannister army kill Robb Stark, his lover Talisa and his mother Catelyn in ambush during the wedding... Sam and Gilly and her baby and fleeing south from the Zombies on the north... Tyrion is unhappy that he has to marry Sansa, even though he secretly loves Shae, in order for the Lannisters to keep their power.
The 3rd season of the "Game of Thrones" series continues with all the elements of the previous seasons, including all the flaws and virtues that come with it: only episodes 3.3, 3.4 and 3.10 can be considered truly great, without reservations, while the quality of the others oscillates too much. The quality of the writing improved in this edition, with a few great quotes: in episode 3.3, after the funeral of the old Hoster Tully, Blackfish says this to Catelyn Stark: "Your father was a stubborn old ox. I was surprised when he died. Didn't think death had the patience." In 3.4, there is another gem of a quote, from Varys, who warns about Petyr Baelish: "He would see the realm burn if he could be the king of ashes." Unfortunately, the storyline overstretches itself in excess of too many subplots, making one wonder if the author lead its plot tangles to collapse from its own overambition. Likewise, it is highly questionable why there was so much violence and cruelty presented on the screen - it is understandable that they wanted to show how the barbarity of the (fictional) Middle ages looked like realistically, but did they not know of any kind of subtlety? The long and explicit torture sequence of Theon Greyjoy, for instance, has such a contempt for humanity, such a depravity and vile nature that the rest of the season never truly recovers after it.
One of the best moments surprisingly stems from a love story blossoming between Jon Snow and Ygritte - in one refreshing comic moment in 3.7, she jokes about being afraid of a spider in order to fall into his arms, in a wonderfully warm and cute scene - while Tyrion rises to the occasion in episode 3.8: even though he does not want to marry Sansa, and even though he is such a small individual who can be killed by the authoritarian King Joffrey in an instant, he proves incredible integrity and courage when he puts the King in his place after the latter wanted to 'bed' Sansa before him during the wedding: "Then you'll be f*** your own bride with a wooden cock!" You could hear a pin drop after that sequence. The author also has a sense for some historical ironies (for instance, Robb Snow won every battle he ever participated - yet lost everything when he died in an assassination attempt when he least expected it), while numerous critics praised the shocking finale in episode 3.8, as well as the strong cast of the entire series, with Emilia Clarke gaining momentum in each subsequent segment. The season follows about 10 stories parallely. However, only three of those get to a point in this season, while the other seven are still lingering, "stuck" somewhere in the middle of a developing process, leaving thus all the burden of a conclusion or some kind of resolution on the fourth (or some other) season.
Friday, 11 November 2016
At Hogwarts school of wizardy, Harry Potter and his class get a new teacher, Mr. Moody. The school will also host the Triwizard Tournament where three school will compete in a competition so dangerous that even might lead to a students' death. Even though he did not submit his name for the competition, Harry is chosen to participate. There are three tasks: they must get a golden egg from a dragon; they must swim underwater to save a mate; and finally to go through a hedge maze to get a cup. However, in the last challenge, Harry and Cederic are transported to a graveyard, where Pettigrew kills Cederic and performs a ritual summoning Vodemort and his henchmen. Harry manages to escape and return to safety. The real Mr. Moody was replaced by Voldemort's spy, but is exposed. Dumbeldorf warns Harry of dark times coming.
The 4th film in the long "Harry Potter" film series, "Goblet of Fire" proved once again to be strong at the box office, yet weak as a patchwork of a story that is all over the place. The biggest complaints should be aimed at director Mike Newell and screenwriter Steve Kloves who 'narrowed' the film down only to fans instead of also taking care to appeal to universal viewers, even those who are not fans of wizards and sorcery and thus do not care about overlong, empty subplots involving magic or schematic, standard dialogues which are reduced to basically only dryly explaining what is going on. Sadly, Harry Potter hardly interacts with his friends, Ron and Hermione, in this edition, and thus this leaves little character development. A little bit of spark and charm only occasionally manage to 'twitch' the movie from its grey routine, yet they are refreshingly welcomed, such as the humorous moment where Harry complains that he cannot speak to a girl alone to invite her to a dance, because the girls are always in a "herd", or the hero's confrontation with a blond lad who did a bet that Harry will not hold up 5 minutes in the tournament. Unfortunately, the film is filled with cliche repertoire (cheap "boo" scares; the constant grey-dark cinematography after which one yearns to watch a film with normal colors; unnecessary dark moments used just to keep the viewers' attention...), whereas the ritual performed to summon Voldemort at the end is disgusting and misguided. Only a moderately solid sequel in the franchise, overlong and devoid of joy or spirit.